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Book review (part one) of Roselee Goldberg's Performance: Live Art Since 1960

Updated on July 11, 2010

Performance: Live Art since 1960

The book Performance: Live Art since 1960 by Roselee Goldberg discusses the growth of performance art (also known as live art, or time based art) through the 1960s up to the time of the publication of the book in 1998. It contains over 320 photographs and illustrations, more that 120 of which are in full color. It is an oversized book, both physically and in it's scope and content. The photographs by themselves effectively suggest the breadth and depth that is performance art. The accompanying text fills in some of the details and contours; by providing names of artists, details overlooked in the photos of specific events, locations, background and other pertinent details. It is exciting to find a book so well researched and inclusive in its scope of one of the defining art forms of the last part of the 20th century.


Rather than writing a review that condenses and abridges this book's themes and the artists involved, I have determined to write a series of reviews, each dealing with one chapter from the book. This will give you a much more generous overview of the world of performance art; as well as giving more insight to Roselee Goldberg's book. Performance: Live Art since 1960 is a great reference source and muse, shedding light on the vast dimension that is performance art. While I hope my reviews may inspire, enlighten and amuse you; they are no substitute for the book itself. Roselee Goldberg has brought together photographs and commentary that are hard or impossible to find elsewhere, even on the web.

In part this is because many of the the artists were active before the emergence of the internet; it is also due in part to the ephemeral nature of time based art; which like a beautiful sunset or flower floating down a river, may awaken the viewer or performer in a way that a photograph alone fails to do.

Performance by Roselee Goldberg Front Cover.
Performance by Roselee Goldberg Front Cover.
Performance by Roselee Goldberg Back Cover.
Performance by Roselee Goldberg Back Cover.
Performance by Roselee Goldberg page view.
Performance by Roselee Goldberg page view.
Could be performance art: My friend Mike bites a unicorn.
Could be performance art: My friend Mike bites a unicorn.

Review of the introduction to Roselee Goldberg's Performance: Live Art since 1960

In the introduction, and throughout the book, Roselee Goldberg brings her formidable personal and scholarly knowledge of the performance art world to bear. She defines performance art as any thing that an artist says is performance art, and from this deceptively simple premise launches into a chronological examination of performance art from it's roots before the 1960s, and then through the decades to the end of the 1990s. She further takes pains to highlight the different forms performance art can take - and how it mirrors, and more informatively, differs from its counterparts in theater, dance, painting, sculpture and other art forms. Each decade is examined in terms of the different prominent artists, schools of thought; and is further illuminated by brief descriptions and photos of certain artists at work. It is enthralling to see the sheer variety of styles, motives and execution of form that Roselee Goldberg provides. I found it to be at times almost overwhelming, as for instance, in one paragraph alone, she mentioned 15 different artists from 3 different continents. Grist for the mill! With the internet as an aid, this book promises to be a literal goldmine for the performance art enthusiast, with rare photos and insight just being the icing on the cake.

The broad outline that she paints of performance art from a chronological standpoint is one of dynamic energy and rapport with the radical politics of the 1960s; moving in to a broader range of dynamics and topics explored in the 1970s. In the 1980s we see the emergence of greater concern for social and political issues of that decade informing the artists' choices; and finally in the 1990s there is a growing acceptance of the art form, both academically and within the art world itself; while yet, there is a quality of the unknown, the explosive, the enigmatic inherent in performance art that helps it to avoid categorization or easy definition.

Additionally, Roselee Goldberg touches on all the different ways that performance art presents itself. This includes music, dance, theater, visual representations, video, film and other medium. In fact, life itself is often the medium of performance artists; and it is the space between artist and audience where the art itself takes shape, changes and grows. Again, Roselee Goldberg mentions many different schools of art and performers who embody the different ways that performance art is presented. To more fully understand this, there is a picture and sidebar on almost every page of the introduction that showcases an artist or group of artists; they are arranged to correspond with the larger text in the book, so that ideas and themes are presented in an organized fashion.


It is a valuable reference book, as well as being full of interesting and inspiring photos and anecdotes. While at times overwhelming in it's scope, it offers names of artists, venues, events and schools of thought; that are further articulated in the rest of the book; and offer themselves as a starting point for the serious student or enthusiast of performance art. There are passages that made me wince: like the description of the artist who hung himself above a busy urban street with hooks through his flesh; to those that made me wonder: like the performances of the Gorilla Girls whose work centers on the exclusive male presence within the established art world. There were photos that clearly defined a moment in art history, like Shiraga Kazuo's Challenging Mud (1953) to ones that bridged the art world and popular culture, like Christian Marclay's David Bowie, from the body mix series, 1991.

In all, the introduction is a densely packed and informative review of the performance art world during the 1960s through the 1990s. It is entertaining, interesting, inspiring and demonstrates that performance art is likely to continue to be a force for generations to come.

Read another review.

Roselee Goldberg's Performance: Live Art since 1960.

Read my review of the first chapter here.

The first chapter of Roselee Goldberg's book Performance: Live Art since 1960 is an accounting of some of the more politically motivated performance artists from the 1960s through the 1990s.

Read my review of the second chapter here.

The second chapter of Roselee Goldberg's book Performance: Live Art since 1960 pertains to theater, opera and, to a lesser extent, music; by performance artists from the 1960s through the 1990s.

You may read my review of the third chapter here.

This chapter in Roselee Goldberg's book Performance: Live Art since 1960 tackles one of the most charged areas in performance art: the human body; and, is packed with a visceral punch!

This is my review for chapter four.

Chapter four of Roselee Goldberg's book "Performance: Live Art since 1960" is about feminism, gay pride, and multiculturalism; and it showcases very powerful images, statements and performers.

My review of chapter five.

Roselee Goldberg observes the merging of performance art and dance in this chapter of her book "Performance: Live Art since 1960".  She covers a lot of ground here!

Here is my review for chapter six.

Roselee Goldberg's book "Performance: Live Art since 1960" concludes with the chapter "video, rock n' roll, the spoken word".  As well as exploring this trinity, we get a look at the underground scene in New York, and how it contributed to them.

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    • Robert Hughes profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Hughes 

      7 years ago

      You are very astute to read the captions on the photos. That's right, to the performance artist, all is dance or art.

    • Maximizer profile image


      7 years ago from San Jose, Costa Rica

      I believe unicorn biting is actually a form of dance in some cultures


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